On this day in 2001, the music world lost one of its true visionaries when Aaliyah, who was only 22 years old at the time, died in a plane crash along with eight other passengers after filming a music video in the Bahamas. Her tragic passing came just as she was releasing her finest album Aaliyah, which had come out only a month prior to hear death. Though she was only 22, she had still managed to become an industry veteran, as she appeared on “Star Search” at the age of nine and signed her first record deal at 12. She recorded her first album Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number when she was only 14, and she had two Gold singles and a platinum album before her 16th birthday.
Because she was so young, the early part of Aaliyah’s career was devoted to being something of a cipher, first for R. Kelly (who produced her debut album and also married her well before she was of age) and then for Timbaland (who, along with Missy Elliott, produced much of Aaliyah’s second album One in a Million). But it’s hard to argue with the results, as Aaliyah’s extensive list of hits — including “Back & Forth,” “We Need a Resolution,” “Are You That Somebody?” and “Try Again” — reflects an incredible ear for envelope-pushing sounds and funky, radio-friendly grooves.
Though Timbaland’s presence still loomed large (he co-wrote a handful of tracks and informs much of the album’s sound), Aaliyah was the album that appeared to represent the singer truly coming into her own. She was exploring new directions in the form of rhythmic tricks like “Loose Rap” and punchy anthems like “More Than a Woman.” Ironically, she passed away after making a video for “Rock the Boat,” one of the better and stranger tracks on the album and a possible indication of things to come.
Aaliyah’s passing was tragic, and her absence still stings in the modern hip-hop and R&B community. But her songs live on, including the beyond-catchy “Try Again.”